More than four family homes being repossessed every day

More than four family homes are being repossessed every day, stark figures from the Central Bank have revealed.

Now debt experts and opposition politicians have called on the Government and the Central Bank for new action as the latest mortgage arrears figures show a huge number of households still face marked distress, amid fears ordinary homeowners will increasingly be left at the mercy of so-called vulture funds.

Figures covering three months to the end of September showed 421 struggling homeowners either volunteered or were forced to hand over the keys to the properties.

On top of that, another 288 houses or apartments owned by landlords were taken by banks and finance houses.

Central Bank figures published yesterday showed the number of home loan accounts in arrears had fallen from a peak hit three years ago, but that 79,562 accounts — or 11% of all mortgages principally linked to the family home in the Republic — were behind in some sort of way in meeting their payments, at the three months to the end of September.

The key measure used by banks to assess the number of people having missed some sort of payment over a 90-day period has shown a dramatic fall to 56,350 accounts — representing 7.6% of all principal home mortgage accounts — from a peak of almost 13%. A total of 421 properties were taken into possession by lenders during the quarter, little changed from the same quarter in 2015.

Nonetheless, eight years on from the onset of the property and economic crash, concerns are mounting that the main policy of tackling the arrears crisis through restructured mortgages — new deals struck between lenders and distressed borrowers but not involving any major write-down of home loan debt — are not as robust as they should be.

The report showed the level of repossessions is about the same as it was at the start of the year with more than four homes on average being taken from borrowers every day.

At 121,140, the Central Bank figures show a huge number of mortgage accounts in the State have been restructured to date, but that 12% of such new deals may have fallen apart.

The Central Bank said 34,551 mortgages on family homes were behind with repayments by two years or more but this number has been dropping consistently since the middle of last year.

There is almost €2.2bn of arrears on these loans, the report stated.

Another 14,518 properties which are in the buy-to-let sector are also more than two years behind in repayments with more than €1.5bn of unpaid arrears.

The Central Bank also revealed that “non-bank entities” now control 45,638 mortgages in Ireland and almost 15,000 of those are held by unregulated loan owners such as foreign vulture funds.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said arrears on family home mortgages held by sub-prime lenders and unregulated firms were also “alarming”.

“These funds are generally not directly regulated by the Central Bank,” he said. “The borrower’s contact is with an intermediary who does not make the final decision regarding a restructure proposal or whether to commence repossession proceedings.

“The Government needs to move promptly to bring these funds fully within the ambit of regulation and to ensure that a broad suite of restructure options are put in place.”

Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Paul Joyce, senior policy analyst at FLAC — the Free Legal Advice Centres — called on the Central Bank to open a fresh investigation into what he said was borrowers agreeing with lenders to new deals believing falsely their debt problems were behind them and their payments sustainable.

Business: 17


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